Saturday, April 20, 2024

Celtics against Miami Heat first-round series preview

The Celtics will continue their ongoing saga with the Miami Heat, as they'll open up a best-of-7 in the first-round of the 2024 NBA playoffs beginning Sunday afternoon.

Last season, Miami won the series in a do-or-die Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals after initially going up 3-0. Last year was last year, though, and its a very different Celtics team this time around.

After struggling to break through the Heat's zone and switch heavy late game defense, Boston went out and got Kristaps Porzingis. This should be a big series for Porzingis, who has been one of the league's best on post-ups this season, especially when he has someone smaller guarding him. While Miami's best defender is Bam Adebayo, he's only 6-foot-9 and is not able to contest the C's starting big man's jumpers, as he's largely been a non-factor against Porzingis in the regular season matchups this year -- to which Boston won the regular season series 3-0, including a 143-110 blowout victory down in South Beach.

Miami will also be missing its star player in Jimmy Butler, who has been ruled out for several weeks at the least with a MCL sprain in his right knee. Without Butler, Miami loses a lot of shot creation and drawing fouls. Their offense should take a big hit, and will have to mostly rely on Tyler Herro and will need an aggressive Adebayo. 

If either Adebayo is passive or Herro isn't initiating good offense for the Heat, they will be in big trouble. Miami will also be missing another perimeter creator in Terry Rozier for at least the first week of the series due to a neck sprain.

The Celtics have a lot more pathways to win this series than the Heat do, largely due to their talent and health advantage before the series has even begun. The addition of Jrue Holiday, the one of only two NBA champions in the series on either roster (the other being Kevin Love), will also play a role of a proven veteran defensive point guard that can get going and drop 20-30 points on any given night.

The biggest advantage Boston has on its side will be the play of All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who both have improved in a multitude ways on both ends of the court. Look for each of them to have a major chip on their shoulder after how the season ended on their home floor last year.

Another factor the Celtics may have in their favor against Miami is the second unit or role players such Al Horford, Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser and Xavier Tillman vs. Kevin Love, Duncan Robinson, Caleb Martin and even rookie Jamie Jaquez Jr.. Boston's bench has made their case, especially over the last two months or so that they can be relied upon whenever their names are called, while the Heat's depth is taking a hit mainly due to untimely injuries.

However, Miami's head coach Erik Spoelstra is not to be underestimated, as he's known for always doing more with less -- as evidenced by the Heat's run to the Finals last year as an eight-seed. Going up against one of the greatest coaches in the sport should be a great early test for C's head coach Joe Mazzulla and his squad.

The Celtics will look to put the past behind them and move forward once and for all and they'll get a chance to do it in the first-round. Even though the Heat are without Butler, Boston is well aware that this is going to be a fight despite their opponents starting the series short-handed.
"Anytime someone's out, other guys are going to take on the responsibility of playing," Mazzulla said in post-practice presser. "Their DNA is still the same -- their team might look a little bit different, but their DNA is still the same."
It will be the fourth time in four years that these two teams will meet in the postseason. The Celtics host the Heat in Game 1 Sunday at TD Garden. ABC has the tip-off at 1:00 pm ET. 

Eli Weisberger

Photo used courtesy of Sports Illustrated

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